How To Help Your Pregnant Dog Deliver Puppies
If your dog is pregnant and about to have puppies you may be full of excitement and uncertainty all at once. Rest assured, nature usually knows what to do and everything goes just fine. That being said, some dogs do have trouble giving birth and may need some assistance. In a few cases you may have to intervene and take your dog to the vet if things aren’t going well. In this article we will discuss the process of labor in dogs, which is called “whelping”. We will also discuss things you can do to help and what to watch for in case professional help is needed.
What to Know Ahead of Time to Help Prepare for Whelping
Prior to your dog whelping, you need to know the following information:
- The estimated or exact date of mating
- How many puppies your dog is carrying
- The health status of your dog
Pregnancy in dogs lasts about 63 days. Whelping may occur anywhere from 58-72 days after mating. It is important to know your dog’s likely due date. That way you can prepare things for her before she begins giving birth. It will also give you an idea if you may need to seek your veterinarian’s help if labor doesn’t start.
You can find your dog’s due date by checking out our simple dog pregnancy calculator. Just input the date of mating and the calculator will show you when to expect delivery.
About 1-2 weeks prior to the anticipated delivery date, prepare a comfortable “whelping” spot for your dog to give birth in. This should be in a dark, private, easily accessible location. Make sure she feels safe there. Other animals in the home need to be blocked off from access to it. You can put soft and comfy blankets there. Provide her with a large enough cardboard box for her to lie in with her puppies. You can actually buy a whelping box if you desire. It is a box where your dog should feel safe, secure and will give birth in.
Schedule an appointment with your vet after about the 45th day of her pregnancy. Your vet can take an x-ray of her belly to count how many puppies there are. Your vet will also examine her to make sure she is healthy enough to have a smooth delivery process.
If your dog is a breed with a large head, such as a Bulldog, you should consult with your vet about whether you should just go ahead and schedule a c-section ahead of time to prevent complications. You should also do this if your female dog is relatively small compared to the breed of dog that mated with her.
How to Know When Your Dog May Give Birth
You should already have an estimated delivery date on your calendar based on when your dog was mated. You can also follow a dog pregnancy calendar to keep track of her changes and what you should expect as the days pass by. When it starts getting close to her estimated delivery date, begin checking her rectal temperature daily. When her temperature drops below 100 degrees F, you can expect her to begin whelping within 24 hours.
As this first stage of labor begins, you may notice her:
- Being restless
This first stage of labor can take anywhere from 6-12 hours. These signs are normal and should not be cause for alarm. She might want to be left alone or might feel more clingy. Let her have her space if she wants it.
What to Do During the Whelping Process
During the first stage of labor, when your dog is acting restless, give her space and privacy. It’s okay to check in on her regularly, but don’t bother her. The worst thing you can do is interfere, causing her too much stress. Just make sure she has fresh water available if she wants it and leave her alone.
As she goes into the second stage of labor, she will start passing the puppies. Here are some normal things to monitor for:
- straining hard for 10-30 minutes in between each puppy
- having one puppy every hour
- taking a rest halfway through
- not straining for up to 4 hours in between puppies
- taking up to 1-2 minutes to lick away the membranes covering each puppy
- removing the umbilical cord of each puppy
- eating the placenta
Throughout this process continue checking in on her, but do not disturb her if everything appears to be going fine.
If she isn’t licking away the membranes covering the puppies within 1-2 minutes of their delivery, you will need to clean them yourself. Do this by gently tearing away the membrane covering the face of the puppy and rubbing the puppy with a clean towel. This helps the puppy to start breathing.
If the mother isn’t removing the umbilical cord, you can also do this. For each puppy, tie the umbilical cord about a ¼ of an inch from the puppy’s belly. You can use dental floss or a piece of string. Then, cut the cord on the outer aspect of the tie (away from the puppy’s belly).
If a puppy seems to be stuck in the birth canal, you can gently pull it as the mother is contracting. Gently hold onto the puppy’s foot or feet with a clean cloth. Use steady, gentle, even motion to pull. Pull the puppy up towards your dog’s tail during each contraction. If this does not work easily, you will need to take your dog to the vet.
As your dog continues to whelp (give birth), keep each puppy with her. This ensures they stay warm and begin their bonding process. This also encourages them to start nursing once they are ready. If your dog is not staying near the puppies or seems to be rejecting them, you can fill a plastic bottle with warm water and place a thin towel over it. Put this in with the puppies. But, allow them enough space to move away from it if they feel too warm.
Things you SHOULD NOT do during the whelping process:
- put your fingers in the birth canal (can cause trauma and infection)
- forcefully remove a puppy
- lift puppies by the umbilical cord
- use a heating pad (can cause burns)
How Long Does it Take for a Dog to Give Birth?
This depends on how many puppies your dog is carrying. Some dogs may deliver one puppy every hour without any breaks. If your dog is carrying 5 puppies, it can take up to or around 5 hours.
Other dogs may take up to a 4-hour break halfway through delivering their puppies. If your dog is carrying 5 puppies and takes a break halfway through, it could take up to 9 hours or more.
For those who get an xray of their pregnant dog, you will know how many puppies to expect. This will let you know when your dog is finished giving birth. It will also let you know if you need to take your dog to the emergency vet if all the puppies do not come out.
When to Take Your Whelping Dog to the Vet
Even though most deliveries go just fine, some may have complications. Puppies can get stuck in the birth canal. The mother can get too tired, or even dehydrated to finish whelping. Sometimes they don’t have strong enough contractions to get each puppy out in a decent amount of time.
Reasons you should take your dog immediately to the vet:
- she doesn’t go into labor within 24 hours of her temperature dropping
- it has been more than 70 days since her mating date
- if you see black or red discharge before any puppies are delivered
- she is straining hard for over an hour
- taking longer than a 4-hour break
- she is in extreme pain
- heavy bleeding
These are considered emergency situations and you will need to take her to either your vet or an emergency vet right away. Sometimes they can give her a medication to help speed along her birthing process. Other times, especially if a puppy is stuck, an emergency c-section will need to be done. It’s best to know what emergency vet clinics are near you ahead of time so you aren’t wasting precious time just trying to find an available vet that can help your dog.
Leslie Brooks graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation she moved to Indianapolis to do an intensive one-year internship at a specialty practice and then began working as a small animal general practitioner. She ran her own house call practice for three years, visiting pets in people’s homes. Currently, she works part time in clinical practice and volunteering her free time to serve pets of the homeless.